The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and other Republican lawmakers on Wednesday introduced comprehensive legislation aimed at countering China on multiple fronts including intellectual property theft, government subsidies, and defence capabilities in Asia.
Billed as a first in terms of its scope, the legislation – proposed by the committee’s chairman Jim Risch and Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy – aims to address most of the issues that have frayed US-China relations, but also seeks cooperation on arms control and the environment.
Senator Mitt Romney, one of the Republican Party’s most vocal critics of President Donald Trump, also co-authored the bill, called Strengthening Trade, Regional Alliances, Technology, and Economic and Geopolitical Initiatives Concerning China (Strategic) Act.
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“The Chinese Communist Party is reshaping the international order to benefit authoritarian regimes and directly undermine American and democratic interests,” Risch said. “It is my intent and hope that this legislation will provide a blueprint to advance bipartisan cooperation in all aspects of the competition with China in 2020, and beyond.”
“Addressing the threat that China poses to our fundamental values of freedom, human rights, and free enterprise is the central challenge facing us in the 21st century,” Romney said. “We must take decisive action now to confront China’s growing aggression and dissuade them from their predatory efforts.”
The Strategic Act is the latest in a series of US bills that have angered China, most recently the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, signed by Trump last week, which calls for sanctions against foreign individuals and banks for contributing to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy since Beijing passed national security legislation for the city.
In March, Trump passed the Taipei Act, a bill expressing Washington’s support for Taiwan in strengthening its relationships with countries around the world.
On the economic front, the Strategic Act calls for a review of complaints by companies related to IP theft and an annual review of Chinese companies listed on US stock markets.
Gifts to universities by foreign governments would come under greater scrutiny, in accordance with the legislation’s section on “safeguarding American institutions”.
Addressing competing interests in the South China Sea, widely seen as a potential flashpoint for military conflict with Beijing, Risch’s Strategic Act would call for, among other measures, appropriations “to work with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region to better align respective interpretations of international law relating to freedom of the seas, including on the matters of operations by military ships in exclusive economic zones”.
It also calls for a report on “the structure of the [Chinese coastguard] with respect to its role as a coercive tool in ‘’grey zone’’ activity in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea”.
The final section of the bill is devoted to “fostering cooperation between the United States and the People’s Republic of China”, noting that the two countries “have successfully collaborated in the past to achieve positive outcomes for the global environment, including joint efforts to protect elephant populations by enacting nearly complete bans on the import and export of elephant ivory”.
The section lists a number of environmental protection objectives, although it avoids any mention of climate change.
Congress only has a handful of weeks left to pass a slew of major bills, including the national defence bill, another coronavirus relief package, and appropriations bills to fund the government. The House and Senate typically leave Washington for an August recess, and are scheduled to be out of session for about one month before the election in November.
Any bills that do not pass before the end of the year will have to be reintroduced when the next Congress begins in January.
Additional reporting by Jacob Fromer
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This article US senators introduce legislation to counter China on multiple fronts first appeared on South China Morning Post